The riots we have seen over the past year indicate a pervasive deterioration of law and order. As a people, we must attain greater internal, moral order and return to a greater civil order founded on the rights and liberties enshrined in and protected by the United States Constitution.

Recently, I was reading portions of Russel Kirk’s book The Roots of American Order. Kirk gives primacy to “order,” asserting:

Order is the first need of the soul. It is not possible to love what one ought to love, unless we recognize some principles of order by which to govern ourselves.

Order is the first need of the commonwealth. It is not possible for us to live in peace with one another, unless we recognize some principle of order by which to do justice.

In this context, order is more than the organization of people and things in relation to each other. It is distinct from the tomes of laws and regulations that purport to govern our behavior. It is comprised of higher principles that guide and direct individual and collective actions. The functioning of America is contingent upon maintaining a higher moral and social order through which life, liberty, and property are protected.

Simone Weil, a philosopher and political activist, in describing the state of disorder in the early- to mid-20th Century, once wrote:

It is as though we had returned to the age of Protagoras and the Sophists, the age when the art of persuasion—whose modern equivalent is advertising slogans, publicity, propaganda meetings, the press, the cinema, and radio—took the place of thought and controlled the fate of cities and accomplished coups d’état.

Since then, things have only deteriorated. Deified celebrities; tribalistic, ideological news media—to which we in the 21st Century can regrettably add social media; and idealogues are the predominant substitutes for the work and rigor required for independent thought. We are continually told how and what to think. Worse, we live in a society defined by hypersensitivity. Mere words, words often expressing nothing more than a divergent viewpoint, merit physical violence and are silenced by the sanctimonious thought police. 

In his book, Kirk describes a state of disorder as a “confused and miserable existence.” If we are to believe what is seen and read in the news, our civilization appears to be spiraling toward a critical level of disorder.     

2020 was a year that most people were more than willing to leave in the past. It was marked by a pandemic, government-mandated lockdowns, anger, depression, isolation, racism, riots, vandalism, and violence, all of which were exacerbated by a contentious election season. People across the country were anxious for the close of 2020 and hopeful for a brighter 2021. Unfortunately, 2021 opened with a literal bang as protesters stormed the U.S. Capitol.

What is the cause of such disorder? We can allocate blame ad nauseum. “It’s the schools.” “It’s politicians.” “It’s Corporations.” “It’s bad parenting.” Etc. Regardless of where the blame lies, there is, indeed, a need for a better, higher order.

If there is any hope for the future of this great country, every person residing in these United States must seek to establish a personal, internal moral order. Whether it comes by reason or by revelation, recognizing that there are natural, moral limitations to one’s actions is critical to our constitutional republic’s survival. Religion and family are two crucial pillars of establishing personal moral order – both of which have been eroded over time.

Religion has traditionally played a key role in establishing individual morality. This was once a country sought by pilgrims for religious freedom; now, individuals’ rights to live and act according to their faith are under attack. Regrettably, there are those seeking to push all religious activity to the fringes of society, relegating it to the category of taboo, not to be discussed in public, not to be taught in schools, and certainly not as an integral component of moral order. In fact, in response to COVID-19, some states have declared churches non-essential while disproportionately restricting services at a time when they seem to be needed the most.   

Worse still, where the family once stood as the primary social unit responsible for the upbringing of civically-minded, moral children, the government has stepped in and appropriated the role of parent and educator. Families are shrinking, and parenting is increasingly outsourced.

Without religion and family, rising generations are abandoning the collective wisdom and morality that has survived throughout history. Left in this void, grasping for any semblance of moral order, too often youth are settling for the religiosity of “wokeness” prominent among the progressive elite. Certain truths exist that transcend place or time – these cannot be abandoned.  

For example, in various forms, the “golden rule” is espoused by both secular philosophers and world religions. The idea that we should act toward others in such a way as we would like others to act toward us is a near-universal moral that, among other similar ethical standards, must be taught, learned, and practiced.

The founders of this great nation sought to establish an order limiting the powers of the government and preserving individual liberty. However, that liberty was predicated upon the existence of a moral and virtuous people. James Madison said: “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.” To this, John Adams adds, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” A high degree of civil and moral order goes hand-in-hand.

Our civil order must preserve the sanctity of our natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Defacing public property, vandalizing private property, and violent indifference to human life denote injustice and a decline of the American order. Riotous disregard for our natural rights threatens the very fabric of our constitutional republic, for, without regard for one’s life and one’s property, liberty cannot exist.

The disorder that has erupted across this country should be a clarion call to every American. To be clear, this is not a call for the compelled order of an authoritarian regime. It is a call for individual action. It is a call to every American to develop civility. It is a call to advance liberty. It is a call to listen to one another, to respect one another, and to act with integrity and goodwill.

Brad Galbraith is Land Use Fellow at 1889 Institute. He can be reached at bgalbraith@1889institute.org.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the official position of 1889 Institute.